Talcum powder raises risk of ovarian cancer – Experts …as US court fines Johnson & Johnson in landmark case
The Professor of Cancer Epidemiology, Paul Pharoah, said it was 'biologically plausible' that grains of talcum could enter the fallopian tubes and cause inflammation in the ovaries which could lead to disease.
Although the risk was small, Prof Pharoah said it that talc 'more likely than not' raised a woman's chance of developing ovarian cancer.
“I think that it is more likely than not that there is an association between genital talc use and risk of some types of ovarian cancer.'
If comes after Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical giant, was ordered to pay $72 million (£51 million) to the family of a woman who claimed her cancer was caused by Baby Powder and another talc product sold by the company.
A jury in St Louis, Missouri, said the company had failed to warn users of the potential dangers despite concerns raised by the American Cancer Society in 1999.
Although many talcum powder manufacturers in the US have since switched to corn starch following the scare in the 90s, in Britain most still use talcum.
Speaking about the risk Prof Pharoah said: 'The association is biologically plausible. Talcum powder applied to the genital area might get into the fallopian tubes and onto the ovaries and cause inflammation, which in turn could cause ovarian cancer.
'On balance, I think that it is more likely than not that there is an association between genital talc use and risk of some types of ovarian cancer.'
However, Prof Pharoah said that, despite the raised risk, it was unlikely a British court would have come to the same conclusion as jurors in the US.
'Even if the association were true, the strength of the association is too small to be able to say on the balance of probabilities that any cancer arising in a woman who used talc had been caused by the talc,' he added.
'It's important to remember the size of the possible risk - a 20-year-old woman in the UK has a risk of getting ovarian cancer at some point in her life of 18 in a thousand; a 20 per cent increase in this risk would raise this to 22 in a thousand.'
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer for British women with around 7,000 people diagnosed each year.
However, the main risk factors are using hormone replacement therapy, being overweight or having endometriosis. Smoking is also associated with rare types of ovarian cancer and women with faults the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in particular are associated with high risks. A woman with a fault in BRCA1 has a four in 10 chance of developing ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson is currently facing 1,200 lawsuits in the US from customers who claim they were not warned about the risks.
Mrs Fox claimed she used two of the company’s talc-based products – Baby Powder and Shower to Shower - as feminine hygiene produces for more than 35 years before being diagnosed three years ago with ovarian cancer. She died last year of ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson was ordered pay the family of Jackie Fox $10 million in compensation and $62 million as a punitive award. The company is currently deciding whether to appeal the decision.
Most studies suggesting a connection have since been found to be flawed because they relied on people recalling use of talcum powder many years previously. The only large cohort study found there was no link to ovarian cancer. Even studies which suggest a link found that it only raises the risk by around 20 per cent.
Cancer Research UK states on its website: 'If something truly causes cancer, you would expect people who are exposed to more of that thing to have a higher risk.
'For example, the more you smoke, the higher your risk of lung cancer. But the majority of the studies have not found a similar relationship for talc use and ovarian cancer.'
The ovarian cancer charity Ovacome also said: 'The evidence for a link is weak, but even if talc does increase the risk of ovarian cancer studies suggest it would be by around a third.
'This is a modest increase in risk and ovarian cancer is a relatively rare disease. Increasing a small risk by a third still gives a small risk.'
Law experts in Britain warned that if the company was prosecuted in Britain, a judge, not a jury, would need to be convinced that there was enough scientific evidence to support the claim.
Roderick Bagshaw, Associate Professor of Law, Oxford University, said: 'Whether we will see claims against baby powder producers in England is likely to depend to a great extent on the nature of the scientific evidence that supports the proposition that such powder causes cancer.
'In England such cases would involve having to convince a judge, rather than having to convince a jury, and the judge would have to be convinced not just that powder can cause cancer but also that a particular claimant’s cancer was caused (or contributed to) by the powder.
'A problem claimants frequently face is that if their cancer could have been caused by many different things then it is hard to show that one of them made a difference.' - Telegraph UK.